It's been seven years since my wife and I had a proper vacation, so we're going to remedy that this instant and vanish from society for a week to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. But, worry not, The Metal Minute shall continue on the entire week and yours truly and some wonderful guest writers will be manning the consoles and filling the beat-up interview chair this week.
Drop by regularly as you normally would because you'll find writers such as Bob Vinyl and Metal Mark ready to engage you, as well as Pit magazine's own Jay Gorania, who will be bringing one-on-one sessions with Cephalic Carnage and Big Business. Also keep your eye out for none other than Dan Lorenzo of Hades/Non-Fiction/The Cursed, who will be dropping in to tell you what's up in his many avenues, as well as a very heart-warming story that's not to be missed.
The bunny above is named Sweetie, a rabbit housed at my wife's day care, and her recent visit with us caused a wild stir with our cats Anubis and Neo, but, outside of a lone incident where Sweetie nipped my finger, she lives up to her name. If she didn't belong to the children she might be a permanent fixture here.
Anyway, have a great week everyone, I'll try to make sure I return home and above all, thank you for your continued support of The Metal Minute!
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Arch Enemy - Rise of the Tyrant
2007 Century Media
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Death and black metal fans who've held the candle for the genres have undoubtedly discarded Arch Enemy from their favorites list these days because the Arch Enemy they nurtured on the Black Earth, Stigmata, Burning Bridges and Wages of Sin albums is but a facsimile of the reinvented Arch Enemy of today. In some ways it's utterly fascinating that a band having reached the upper echelon of the metal revival sounds like one of its truly elite but also one of its corner-stuck entities due to the overwhelming popularity they've accumulated ever since adjusting their formula with the tide-changing Anthems of Rebellion.
Doomsday Machine was a juggernaut album that found Arch Enemy in full realization of its prowess, but the thing is, they also found the script from which they may never be allowed to deviate by their newer legion of young fans who are positively enthralled by what Arch Enemy has to offer, which is indeed formidable. You won't hear anyone snide over Angela Gossow; she's been a fabulous addition to the band and naturally its most recognizable figurehead, even with the dazzling fretwork of the Amott brothers, which is the true character of Arch Enemy. Otherwise, you'd have a female growler fronting a chugging neo-metal group, which unfortunately you have a plethora of those to choose from these days.
Rise of the Tyrant does get your attention right off the bat with the thrashy "Blood On Your Hands" and "The Last Enemy" because Arch Enemy wants your attention. Giving perhaps the performances of their careers with Gossow in the fold on these two songs alone, one might also accuse Arch Enemy of expending themselves too soon, because the remainder of Rise of the Tyrant is a hit or at least a check swing. There's no doubt Arch Enemy is one of the most proficient metal bands in existence today and Rise of the Tyrant is a treat just to listen to Chris and Michael Amott tear it up and wail like sirens on those guitars with neoclassical solos and the gorgeous interlude instrumental "Intermezzo Liberte."
Nevertheless, unless you're a recent joiner of the flock, you're likely going to find that Arch Enemy has put a stranglehold on themselves songwriting-wise, because they have a wide range of fans to appeal to, ones who joined up on the last two albums and expect songs on Rise of the Tyrant such as "Night Falls Last" and "I Will Live Again." Such is the curse that meets you with popularity.
Credit where it's due, though... "Revolution Begins" and "The Day You Died" will catch everyone off-guard with their surprising Accept-like power metal hums and these are actually the dark horse tracks of Rise of the Tyrant; they're more appealing than meets the ear initially and they give the album a bit more character, along with the fugue choral accompaniments on "The Great Darkness."
The problem facing Arch Enemy in terms of genuine longevity beyond the next five year is that they've found themselves having to cough up overly melodic pop-fused anthem songs that are now starting to sound watery behind Angela Gossow's brutal rasping, which unfortunately creates an artificial metal mess. It's when they jack the tempos and keep to a straightforward path instead of trying to write the next "We Will Rise" where Arch Enemy and Gossow mesh like the fine-tuned engine of destruction they've become. Despite the enormous talent of this band, there really is such a thing as overextension, and that's why Rise of the Tyrant falls a bit short on the metal richter scale, though it's certainly from no lack of trying. At the least, their newfound devotees are going to gobble Rise of the Tyrant up like acolytes and will undoubtedly be pleased as punch with what they hear...
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Wolves in the Throne Room - Two Hunters
2007 Southern Lord Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Proving for the second time after their boundary-smashing Diadem of 12 Stars that black metal isn't confined to just manic guitar strumming and serpentine Satanic love letters, Olympia, Washington's Wolves in the Throne Room comes up with an album even more transcendental and often sonically beautiful, Two Hunters.
Like Agalloch and Nachtmystium, Wolves in the Throne Room have figured out how to breathe American character into a traditionally Scandinavian dirge sound without compromising the core anger and angst that fuels black metal. Rather than dabble on about Lucifer's predicted reign on Earth, Wolves in the Throne Room utilizes the medium to produce cathartic aural baths bred of an earthbound devotion, and while the use of keyboards amidst their gorgeous, echoing guitar lines, Two Hunters, like its predecessor, is organic and faintly orchestral. This is a band that has figured out how to improbably meld Emperor, Neurosis, Boris and Sonic Youth in an incredibly deep, emotional charge that free-floats at times, then runs like a wildebeast at others.
When Wolves in the Throne Room thrashes like hellions, it actually means something because there's been preamble and build-up leading to their punishing tempos. A perfect example is the positively epic "Behold the Vastness and Sorrow," already benefitting from the prelude intro track "Dia Artio," which is hypnotic, alluring and sad, so much mighty he-men can't help but swell inside. By the time "Behold" starts threading its way towards a traditional blast beat rhythm, this becomes secondary to the ultimate steady, pulverizing smash tempo the song belts through in the final stanza, which, after more than ten minutes, is more emotional outletting than should be asked from any band. The aggression of this song ironically scrubs and washes you instead of dirties you like many black metal bands have a tendency to do, proving that there's a residual effect of salvation in such a bombastic sound.
Appropriately titling the third song "Cleansing," the tribal rhythm and cadenced vocals from Jessica Kinney (who also worked with Asva and Eyvind King) provide a cascading sensation of peace before cutting loose like a beserker, and still there's a hopefulness to the high-end guitar lines amidst the destructive tone the song takes.
Everything you've heard to this point is encapsulated in the final song "I Will Lay My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots," which is pretty-well explained in title and further exemplified in song, a return of body to the earth when the final breath is cast, and if Iron Maiden could come up with the perfect power metal epic with "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," consider "I Will Lay My Bones Among the Rocks and Roots" one for black metal. It's a meaningful and triumphant ode to facing the inevitability of death and embracing the notion of reuniting with the ground that essentially birthed you, so much the fading sound of chirping birds produces a whispered and poignant finale far more interesting than the sound of burning, crackling churches.
Ugly and elegant at the same time, Two Hunters is a masterpiece of modern black metal that shields nothing of its duality. Wolves in the Throne Room bravely subjects their listners to sonnets of both acrimoniousness and complaisance and in the end, Two Hunters has declared itself eternal...
West Virginian progressive moshers Byzantine have been working long and hard throughout the year on their latest album Oblivion Beckons and on Monday, October 1st they are giving listeners a preview of two new cuts from the album, "Nadir" and "Expansion and Collapse" at their MySpace page: Byzantine MySpace page
Familial obligations reportedly set back the recording process of Oblivion Beckons, but vocalist/guitarist OJ reports that ""This is the very first Byzantine album in which all four members have contributed songs, and to my ears, it makes for a much more varied and interesting album from start to finish. This album is one hell of a ride!"
If Oblivion Beckons is half the album of their previous two albums, And They Shall Take Up Serpents and The Fundamental Component, then 2008 will start off with an instant mark to beat when the new disc drops on the metal public.
Here's the album cover and track list for Oblivion Reckons:
All Hail the Endtimes
A Residual Haunting
Deep End of Nothing
Expansion and Collapse (Renavatio)
Receiving End of Murder
The Gift of Discernment
Friday, September 28, 2007
Enthroned - Tetra Karcist
2007 Napalm Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Changes afoot in Enthroned (including the addition of a new permanent drummer, Ahephaim) and many fans were doubting how this reknowned black metal band would recoup after the departure of vocalist Sabathan. Fear not, though; Enthroned is in good hands with Nornagest assuming control of the growling duties, and judging by the sound of the band's latest dark opus Tetra Karcist, the band is thrilled to pieces with their new frontman and last man standing from the original lineup.
Tetra Karcist may be a bit sloppy on "Pray" after a wondrously cryptic death march opening "Ingressus Regnum Spiritus" that sets the album off properly with anti-Gregorian chants and a menacing build-up tempo, but it doesn't take long for the album to get its act together. Tetra Karcist is brutal and fierce, perhaps the most extreme this band has been. Session drummer Alsvid gets past his intial choppiness and begins to guide Enthroned through their blistering song list, and Enthroned grows in strength with him, while Nornagest establishes his position authoritatively, so much the transition should be easy for longtime fans.
Shredding guitars, gorgeous solos, bass lines that are equal portions rock as they are metal and an overall feeling of macabre angst fuel the strength of Tetra Karcist. This album winds incrementally on songs like "Tellum Scorpionis," "Deviant Nerve Angelus" and "Through the Cortex" until Enthroned has established its confidence by the time the epochal "Seven Ensigns of Creation" grinds hypnotically towards a funereal finale with "Nox" and "Vermin."
The morose chanting throughout Tetra Karcist is both unnerving and exciting and it is through these fusions where Enthroned appears to draw strength, because they belt out as heavily as they can muster in accordance. The end result makes Tetra Karcist a mind-melding, disturbed work of black art that will undoubtedly satisfy their rabid legion.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Welcome to Black Dahlia Murder Day at The Metal Minute!
The Black Dahlia Murder - Nocturnal
2007 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Debates rage on messageboards and in circle pits as to how to fully classify The Black Dahlia Murder. Threats of gratuitous bodily harm come between metal fans who want to splash this band into the death metal regions or the grind territories, and it's amusing to see who gets offended when you throw the word "melodic" into the mix.
All of this pointlessness is quite unnecessary, because what a lot of people fail to detect is that The Black Dahlia Murder has deeper shades of black metal than grind or death, though all three certainly fuse a chemical alloy that makes these extreme thrashers one of the most consistent bands on the scene. In just three albums, The Black Dahlia Murder is one of the few bands who can jackhammer you on each successive song and not get boring along the way, and even better, they get stronger with each album.
Nocturnal is perhaps The Black Dahlia Murder's most brutal album to-date (even more than Unhallowed if you really sit down and pay attention to this thing), and yes, there's that infrastructure of (ahem) melody that makes their blazing intensity tuneful to the ears in the way black metal bands like Emperor, Mayhem and Satyricon make their music entertaining on top of abrasive. Yeah, I had the stones to lump The Black Dahlia Murder in with those bands; get your ears blackened into the true depths of black metal and all of a sudden it'll ring clear. Nocturnal is a black metal album, albeit a high profile one, but then so is Dimmu Borgir's past couple albums and you don't see too many people on their case.
Songs like "I Worship Only What You Bleed," "Virally Yours," "Deathmask Drive" and "Climactic Degradation" all have elements that entreat them to death metal hipsters, but their sheer tenebrousness that lurks insidiously beneath the polished velocity is what lends The Black Dahlia Murder a sense of both safeness and danger.
If you can't appreciate the way Brian Eschbach, John Kempainen and Ryan Williams weave articulate and interchangable lines atop the positively manic double-trip hammer from Shannon Lucas and Trevor Strnad's shrill leads, nobody can help you. This Black Dahlia has more completeness to them than what Brian DePalma can hypothesize, just by sampling the songwriting class of "Everything Went Black" or "To a Breathless Oblivion." Nocturnal is a sharp-fanged werewolf personified through forty minutes of sinewy rampaging. Not even silver bullets can take this animal down...
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Photo courtesy of Ralf Strathmann
Think back, if you're of the age, to the first time you heard "Still Lovin' You..." Maybe you had that special someone to neck with or maybe you just fantasized about getting intimate in the back seat on under the covers or beneath the boardwalk. This legendary metal ballad--still the greatest ever conceived--is likely responsible for many births in the world. In fact, Matthias Jabs of the Scorpions will tell you that France in particular takes the love ode so seriously he and the band were introduced to a child born to Scorps fans with the name "Sly," which stems from the acronym "S-L-Y," or "Still Lovin' You."
While North America has mostly forgotten "Still Lovin' You" and other Scorpions classics like "Lovin' You Sunday Morning," "The Zoo," "Bad Boys Running Wild" and "Another Piece of Meat," the standard everyone knows like they know the national anthem (well, in most cases anyway) is the pop-fused "Rock You Like a Hurricane." While this is a bread and butter song for the Scorpions, Matthias Jabs and company want you all to know there's new Scorpions music out there, and frankly, it's one of the big, pleasant surprises of 2007. Humanity Hour 1 is a dead-solid album of rockers and ballads, and it finds the Scorps stepping into newer territories with one foot melded firmly in the past. The project is so ambitious Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins joined the party on "The Cross" from Humanity Hour 1.
Guitarist Matthias Jabs gave me this side Take 5 interview which is companion to an article I wrote on the Scorpions for an upcoming issue of Hails & Horns. Whistle softly to the tune of "Wind of Change" if you like as you read...
The Metal Minute: I always think back on 1988 and the Monsters of Rock tour, which the Scorpions just dominated. I think about how Metallica hadn’t even broken out yet, Van Halen had Sammy Hagar with them, you had Dokken and Kingdom Come. You guys were touring behind the World Wide Live album, which I think you really brought forth forcefully in that stadium. Summer festivals today are just so gimmicky and people can’t really relate to how special something like Monsters of Rock was. What are some of your memories of that particular tour?
Matthias Jabs: Just the best memories; it was something highly unusual until today that bands go on the road and play stadiums three or four times a week. I think that’s unheard of today. Nobody can do it now, but eighties rock was at its peak and Van Halen had a big name, we were big enough, and as you said, Metallica had just started out. I think they didn’t quite get so famous until after that tour; before, nobody really knew them. We met our current drummer James Kottak there; he was playing with Kingdom Come opening up, and we were all just the best of friends. Those were just the best memories; we played the large, sold-out New York Giants stadium and The Coliseum in L.A., the Mile High Stadium in Denver and all of them. It was a fantastic tour.
MM: It’s funny to me outside of the hardcore fans here in North America, a song like “Still Loving You” has been a bit forgotten, but I personally feel that song’s the absolute best metal ballad of all-time. That song was just the greatest makeout song! How do you look at that song 23 years later?
MJ: I mean, this song was a huge success in many countries, and it was very popular at the time in States, but in France it was unbelievable! They take it seriously! (laughs) I think it created a baby boom in France—and France is a small market—but I think it sold 1.5 million singles in a market one-tenth of Germany, and Germany is maybe one-tenth of the United States. Everybody had that single! Recently when we played Paris, some fans came with their children and one in particular was named “Sly,” as in “S-L-Y” for “Still Loving You.” It was one of those baby booms, so there you have it. Of course, in the States it was big because we released World Wide Live right after Love at First Sting and many of the songs were the same, so it was like a double dose with the live version and the studio version. It’s a song probably nobody would ever record today. The chorus basically comes after five minutes and the whole song is maybe seven minutes on the original version. Every producer today would go “Ugh! You can’t do that!” Songs have to be under four minutes now, so those were the good ol’ days when everybody just did what felt right; this is where those songs came from, a time where things could be free.
MM: Have you come across any copies of the fully uncensored Lovedrive lately? You know which one; the version without the picture frame! As it is, we had to hide the one that Mercury let slip through from our parents! (laughs)
MJ: That was the idea! (laughs) It was hidden so well nobody could actually buy the original! Wal Mart and the more conservative stores banned it, which, by the way, only happened in the U.S. In Europe it was always available as a picture disc, specially made in England at the time, which made it very popular over there! We just left England and all over Europe before coming over here, and in England people produced those picture discs that are obviously collectors’ items and we had to sign a lot those on this tour. They look fabulous!
MM: I know that had to have been intense when you guys went to Russia in the late eighties; I remember hearing a lot of people talk about what an incredible moment, the Scorpions being one of the first western bands to crash through the Soviet bloc...
MJ: Yes, absolutely. I think we were for sure the first western rock band ever there in early 1988 and playing ten shows in Leningrad because they didn’t want to allow us to play in Moscow. First we had five shows scheduled in Leningrad, which is now St. Petersburg again, and then five shows in Moscow, but they canceled those and—typical—they said ‘Nope, you’ve got to play all ten shows in Leningrad.’ Okay, so we did, but we visited Moscow anyway on our way home for a day or two—not playing—but then a year-and-a-half later, there was the Moscow Music Peace Festival with all the other bands like Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Motley Crue, so that was an exciting two-day festival; Lenin Stadium, 100,000 people at least each day, free entrance of course. That whole week we spent there was filled with people from all over the world, mainly America, Canada, England and Germany, but the crews, production people and the bands, we rented a huge boat and that’s when Klaus (Meine, vocals) had the idea to write "Wind of Change" on the River Moscow, floating down and we had a few drinks...it was Moscow in a different light, just one-and-a-half years later. We saw the first pizza truck and tried to chase it down, but the food was awful! Then I think about one-and-a-half years earlier in 1988 or ’89, when McDonald’s had their first foot in the doorstep, so you could see the opening up to the western world.
MM: Getting into Humanity Hour 1, I think this album has started to get a lot of people’s attention here in North America because it has that bigger-than-life rock sound of the eighties that we’ve been missing for quite some time. Is that something you feel as well?
MJ: We recorded it in Los Angeles, and obviously we’ve felt comfortable in the States. We’ve been here so many years and decades and we’ve been influenced by the vibe here, and we work with American producers, so naturally it has this sound we were all hoping for, that it fits the situation over here. We didn’t design it for that, but what came out just sounded good! I’m just hoping it’ll do something, because recently we’ve always been sort of sitting between the chairs. We’re a classic rock band and American rock radio has classic rock stations that play our old stuff; they won’t play the new stuff. The other stations play more current bands and say ‘You’re just an old band, a classic rock band and we don’t play them!’ So we never really got airplay here apart from hearing “Rock You Like a Hurricane” all the time. So I’m hoping things will be different; I know of a few stations that are picking up and playing the title song already and some stations have played other songs, so I’m hoping this time we get some exposure because it’s difficult when nobody knows you have an album out. This is what we’ve been experiencing for the last ten years, I would say, so I’m hoping it gets better. You go to radio stations to do interviews like we did in the old days (laughs) and we’ll offer them the new album, they’ll play the song once and you go out back to your car and you hear “Rock You Like a Hurricane” again! But we hope it changes and that at least in some markets we get played on the radio so people know we have something new for a change.
Website: Scorpions website
Copyright 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute
It's Wednesday again, ol' faithful readers, and this time I'm grateful, because that means I'm that much closer to vacation! Stay tuned over the weekend for annoucements about next week while I turn the Metal Minute reins over to some trusted mates while I recharge from life...amongst the guests entertaining you next week is none other than Dan Lorenzo from Hades and The Cursed, but all of my writers have something cool cooking up for you, so it'll be a more than worthwhile week here at The Metal Minute.
This is usually one of the busiest weeks each month for me, so the playlist isn't quite as thick as usual, but I'm all over the new Black Dahlia Murder album Nocturnal, and you can expect a review of that one before I break for vacay. Otherwise, here's what I've got spinning outside of the review capacity...
1. WASP - Unholy Terror
2. The Black Dahlia Murder - Nocturnal
3. Prize Country - Lottery of Recognition
4. Paul Westerberg - 14 Songs
5. Laaz Rockit - Annihilation Principle
What's filling your ears this week, people?
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Last week you read the Take 5 portion of my interview with Steve Blaze of Lillian Axe. Now hop on over to Rough Edge.com and catch the rest! There you will find anecdotes from Steve about his time in Angel, as well as some deep insight into the eighties when Lillian Axe first made a name for themselves. Blaze also digs deeper into the scenes behind the band's latest album Waters Rising. Not to be missed, I assure you!
Lillian Axe Rough Edge Interview
Fueled by Fire - Spread the Fire
2007 Metal Blade Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
One look at this cover and you old schoolers will be hearing the echoes of that long-distant anti-poser mantra: "Death to false metal!" You'll also undeniably be conjuring up Piledriver's Metal Inquisition and Stay Ugly covers (along with the chorus to "Metal Inquisition," "If you're not a metalhead you might as well be dead"). In each era of heavy metal, the diversity and directions the genre has taken (for better or worse) has caused an upheaval of purists to declare themselves superior in terms of heaviness and trueness to the metal cause. Fueled by Fire's cover for the re-release of their debut album Spread the Fire makes no bones whatsoever what their message is; you don't even need to know this is a thrash band to realize that Fueled by Fire has a target and they're going to rattle them senseless with speed and brutal heaviness if put to the test.
Back in the day, thrashers and power metallers screamed in protest against glam and stereotyped "hair" bands such as Warrant, Bon Jovi and Firehouse. Today, it's the metalcore and emo sanctions that are feeling the wrath of metal purifiers and thus the cycle of hatred within the metal community begins anew just as the genre begins to gain a foothold against the starch market sovereignty of corporate rap. The old leaguers of the original thrash movement are still lurking around out there; Exodus, Overkill and Testament all have brand new albums on the way, while newer bands such as Hibria, 3 Inches of Blood and Fueled by Fire have really caught the feeling of vintage thrash and run amok like revivalists for a new generation that's had enough of repeated breakdown patterns and bullfrogged throat bellowers.
Frankly, more power to them, because thrash back in the day was brash, fastidious and exciting and in the lower tiers of the practice, forgotten names like Laaz Rockit, Znowhite, Atrophy, Whiplash, Holocross, Realm, Nuclear Assault and Exciter are faint, speedy echoes of the past who could use a little re-exposure, if not directly, through the efforts of a band like Fueled by Fire, who turn up the jets and whisk you back to the day when Metallica was an actual speed metal band (gasp) and Anthrax was still metal thrashing mad. If you're in the younger age bracket, I know you're envious of missing out on this period and you're right to be. S.O.D.'s Speak English Or Die on the first go-round was a wonderfully clatterous smack on the skull, and while Spread the Fire is hardly an S.O.D. album, it is the by-product of that time and place. It doesn't hurt that Fueled by Fire comes from the west coast territories where thrash was essentially born.
If you remember the defunct New Renaissance label, a ton of underground thrash acts (many great, many not so much), along with the Roadracer (now the prestigious Roadrunner) Metal Blade and Megaforce acts ran like wildfire throughout the United States until metal as a whole fell out of favor in the nineties. Fueled by Fire, along with the aforementioned Hibria, really know what they're doing as far as capturing the essential wrist-breaking riffs, blazing tempos and fuck you attitude of classic thrash. Originally released a few years ago, Spread the Fire was recently picked up for reissue by Metal Blade and given the remix reins to Armored Saint's Joey Vera. The end result has Fueled by Fire giving us a thrash album for both the original and the new eras of metal, so much you can comfortably slip it next to Forbidden's Forbidden Evil and Heathen's Breaking the Silence and challenge newbies to pick which one is the newer band.
With an opening instrumental called "Ernest Goes to Hell," you know Fueled by Fire is stuck in the eighties with us senior metal mutts, since Jim Varney, aka "Ernest" has departed this life and kids today look at you like you're queer if you say "Know what I mean, Vern?" Looking around out there in cyberland, though, the kids are getting Fueled by Fire, though. It's the sound of something new, caustic, abrasive and lightning fast to them, and just as this same demographic has been wowed by Behemoth and Nile, the sound of vintage thrash is starting to capture their attention, and thank God, I say. Fueled by Fire knows exactly what's going on, since they milk almost five minutes out of their metal heraldry song "Thrash is Back."
Cuts like "Betrayal," "Striking Death" and "Metal Forever" fly by at a manic pace and honestly, for an album that has a denim and leather toughie stamping down young metalcore kids (dubbed today's "posers"), if Fueled by Fire didn't play like Satan had barbed wire tied around their scrotes with the threat of pulling tighter if they didn't keep up the pace, then Fueled by Fire would risk being posers themselves. Fortunately, they are not. A bit silly, yes, juvenile, for sure, but goddamn it, give these lads some props for their testosterone-laced thrash that takes the music seriously. In the end, that's what matters. Mosh!
Monday, September 24, 2007
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Iced Earth - Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Iron Maiden is so unique and special to the metal world every country outside of the UK has wanted their very own to claim unto themselves. While that proposition is folly since like Highlander, there can be only one, North America has been able to boast having something as tenaciously heavy like Manowar, while Jon Schaffer and Iced Earth are probably the closest this continent has come to matching Maiden in terms of skill and larger-than-life classic power metal production. Both Manowar and Iced Earth have their contingency of fans, but in the grand scheme of things, both are underappreciated entities within their own borders while becoming international sensations. As much as Iced Earth is truly an American band (which Schaffer, as a former Marine went to lengthy latitudes to prove on Iced Earth's previous powerhouse The Glorious Burden), the fact remains that they're more appreciated under the banners of other countries. Given that Iron Maiden is as universal a heavy metal band as ever conceived, there's one of the division lines between the two bands.
Jon Schaffer has historically been accused of being a Maiden wannabe, but why criticize someone aspiring to reach the pinnacle of greatness that is Iron Maiden? What should Schaffer aspire to, the Vinnie Vincent Invasion? Please. So cut the guy a break, because Schaffer and Iced Earth at least attempt to be creative in the constructs of New Wave of British Heavy Metal doctrines and they are undeniably entertaining, especially with the addition of maverick vocal shredder Tim "Ripper" Owens. The Glorious Burden was a breakthrough for Iced Earth and a bit of a stray from the fantastical otherworlds the band is most reknowned for. With The Glorious Burden out of Iced Earth's system, Jon Schaffer returns to what his band built its rep with. In fact, he revisits 1998's Something Wicked This Way Comes, in particular the 20-minute "Something Wicked" epic in order to conjure up a new body of work, something so grand and expansive it's being done in two installments.
Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1 is the first half of Jon Schaffer's "Something Wicked" redux, only this time he's expanding the concept to include more overtures, choral accompaniment, extended instrumentation and singalong chorus lines that nearly turns this thing into a heavy metal musical, if you can envision it. Actually, you already have if you've watched Queensryche's brilliant Mindcrime at the Moore, and the evidence is there that one can attempt a metal musical if handled correctly. That is not an invitation, however, for anyone on Broadway to whip up a Number of the Beast musical extravaganza, so rid yourself of such a proposal at once or be flogged and sacked upon sight!
For Schaffer's purposes, Framing Armageddon is either going to looked at as an ambitious triumph or a bloated case of metal narcissism, depending on how strongly fans feel about Iced Earth itself. True, Framing Armageddon already has a reputation out the gate because it has a second installment yet to be released, and that does linger on the mind while listening to Framing Armageddon, because this portion is so lengthy it might as well be its own unique body of work.
On the positive side, Framing Armageddon might be said to be Iced Earth at its creative height. The adjunct storyline of an Egyptian foretelling of a celestial invasion takes this album far away from Iron Maiden's Powerslave in conceptual theory, even if "Order of the Rose" has the subtlest shade of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" about it. Otherwise, Framing Armageddon is its own beast which snarls on occasion with the brisk-tempoed "Ten Thousand Strong" and the title track, but mostly Jon Schaffer has written a slew of songs with a mini-epic mentality like on "Setian Massacre," "A Charge to Keep" and "Retribution Through the Ages." One of the more melodic standouts of the album is the rhythmically complex "Infiltrate and Assimiliate," which boasts stellar chorus sections that soar into Schaffer's fictional stratosphere courtesy of Tim Owens' soaring mastery. Indeed Owens has litally changed the face of Iced Earth with his vocal dynamics, so much this band should become his legacy and not Judas Priest. In his time fronting Iced Earth and his other band Beyond Fear, Owens has established himself as a vocal powerhouse bred and refined through the greats of the past. "Infiltrate and Assimilate" is a triumphant heralding of both Owens and Jon Schaffer's confidence to turn him loose.
By the time "Retribution Through the Ages" arrives three quarters of the way through Framing Armageddon, there's an exhaustive feeling about the project because Schaffer and Iced Earth have given it their all, so much that more is to be considered a marathon. In the final quarter, expect even more rousing choral overtures in this metal ballet, which admittedly makes for a climactic finale (especially the prog organs that lift "The Domino Decree" even higher). No doubt Schaffer intends to finish off as strong as he can summon from his ensemble, and the presiding emotion left after "The Awakening" is finished is 'Christ, there's more to come?' Is there really that much more to give?
The answer is a resounding yes as Iced Earth are recording Something Wicked Part 2 as you read this. Given all that Iced Earth throws into Framing Armageddon including the kitchen sink, the microwave, the refrigerator and a few coffee cups for good measure, one can either admire the prospect or quiver in fear because this album is certainly enough unto itself. By the time the second part comes out, will we have a modern-day metal masterpiece to stand the ages? Time will tell....
Prize Country - Lottery of Recognition
2007 Exigent Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Gad-damn why doesn't everything sound this intense, this urgent, this disruptive? The Oregon-based collective known as Prize Country is comprised of variables known for distinctive subgenre music, and yet bringing themselves together, a simplistic and deep-felt appreciation for abrasive punk and detailed rock 'n roll makes this group something undeniably special.
Led by guitarist/vocalist Jacob Depolittle of Subterranean Masquerade, The Kill and Union of the Snake, this band is fortified with lead vocalist and guitarist Aaron Blanchard (Shamelady), bassist Jon Hausler (Seppuku) and Josh Northcutt (Clarity Process) on drums. Prize Country is a raucous mash between Jesus Lizard, Fugazi and Every Time I Die, and the deal about Lottery of Recognition is that each song just gets better and more detail-oriented without losing its core aggression. The album pumps and pumps with more energy than a case of Red Bull, and unlike the latter, Prize Country doesn't leave you flat with an immediate downer after the quick jolt. Plus Prize Country is much better for you!
Smashing down the walls instantly with the aggressive neo-punk blast of "Nice View" that's similar to Every Time I Die without the sudden time-signature jackknives, Lottery of Recognition builds its intensity on subsequent tracks like "Buy In," "A Wink and a Smile," "Risk Taker" and "Matchsticks." At times coming off like Jesus Lizard with subtle traces of Fugazi and even Quicksand ("Playing the Fool" being a strong example), Lottery of Recognition is one dirty mother with one of the most proper sounds of punk you're going to find in today's revival scene.
In other words, Prize Country separates the players from the posers; theirs is inarguably a standard to rise up to...
Om - Pilgrimage
2007 Southern Lord Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
While their former Sleep running mate Matt Pike is out there busting skulls with the jacked-up High On Fire, Chris Hakius and Al Cisneros have slipped into somewhat quieter pastures after searing ears with their electric razor catechism under the moniker of Om, Variations On a Theme in 2004. Their second album Conference of the Birds took a more shaman-like and holistic approach, and it is from there where Om's third offering Pilgrimage steps forward.
Continuing in the same trend as Conference of the Birds, the earthbound and ashy Pilgrimage is a largely whispered affair with tranquil, amp-scaled bass lines, classically-rooted percussion and faint mantras, particularly on the title track that deceives you into believing this album is a subdued study in sonic purgation. That is, until the second song "Unitive Knowledge of the Godhead" blasts out loudly in a rhythmic, boisterous pattern that is intended to produce a mind trip with its subtle psychedelics. Same thing for "Bhima's Theme," which plods heavily with a cumbersome, ripping bass structure, and with only two people performing, it still sounds like a strange alt metal collision between The Melvins and Jesus and Mary Chain.
Engineered by the legendary Steve Albini, Pilgrimage can be said to be as much his triumph as it is Om's. Truly Albini has been able to snake out the core texture of Om's subliminal daydream aural modes and boom them as necessary while maintaing the core trance base that Om has become known for. Pilgrimage is the promise of Variations On a Theme with the discipline of Conference of the Birds; it's bricks-heavy resonance and soul-cleansing abstraction in the same breath.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
The Heavy Metal Box
2007 Rhino Entertainment Company
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
If you're old enough, you'll remember K-Tel and all those crazy hard rock and heavy metal compilations that trickled into your local Kmart and drug stores on the cheap racks. Economical though they might've been, let's face it; the folks at K-Tel and those in later years pushing gross misrepresentations of old-time heavy metal just never had a clue, save to maybe pick the pockets of a number of Gen-Xers who grew up and tossed out their Winger, Def Leppard and Heart tapes ages ago. Granted, you had the occasional Rush, Saxon or Motorhead cut to sucker you into at least picking up those frequently rank collections to look at the mostly hapless track list. After all, metal fans are the most compulsive music listeners out there, amongst the most discretionary.
You have to admire the folks at Rhino for their ingenuity; one look at a halved replica Marshall stack featuring a knob that twists cheekily up to eleven (Spinal Tap can now appreciate having given an actual contribution to music lingo in the midst of all that farce) and you know at face value The Heavy Metal Box is going to be pretty danged cool.
As you're silently picturing miniature Stonehenges and shuffling stage elves while chuckling to the chorus of "Big Bottom," have a look at the third disc of The Heavy Metal Box, and ye bang, there's Spinal Tap amidst Quiet Riot, Dokken, Accept, Ratt, Loudness, Cinderella, Krokus, Twisted Sister, Scorpions, Hanoi Rocks, Stryper, Yngwie Malmsteen, Helloween, Metal Church, Overkill, Anthrax and Megadeth. And that's just one disc out of four. While you're going to find "Metal Health" and "Rock You Like a Hurricane" on those infamous K-Tels that slipped in a bunch of syrupy sludge (you know I'm right, don't even argue), you're not going to find "Wrecking Crew" by Overkill or "The Boulveard of Broken Dreams" by Hanoi Rocks or "Caught in a Mosh" by Anthrax. Hell, you're not going to find "Into the Fire" by Dokken (though you will find the intolerably sugary "Burning Like a Flame") on those lamewad comps, and that's the point about The Heavy Metal Box.
Housed inside this gimmicky amp are nearly 70 songs that cover the foundations of heavy metal, beginning with Iron Butterfly and Blue Cheer and rounding out with Sepultura, Skid Row and Prong. In between is an intelligent overview of 1970s, 80s and early 90s metal that wrangles up Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Sabbath, Rainbow, Deep Purple, Ted Nugent, UFO, Kiss, Dio, Pantera, Slayer, Poison, Lita Ford, Queensryche, Testament and the previously-mentioned headlining acts, but The Heavy Metal Box does its homework and this is why you should be interested; you will also find unsung heroes such as Raven, Blitzkrieg, Tygers of Pan Tang, Mercyful Fate, Manowar, Savatage, Girlschool, Angel Witch, Hawkwind, Montrose, Saxon, Diamond Head, Rose Tattoo, WASP, Fastway, Venom and even Living Colour.
While The Heavy Metal Box selects some of the predictable songs like "Kiss Me Deadly" from Lita Ford, "One" from Metallica, "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly, "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" from Judas Priest and "Still of the Night" by Whitesnake, it's the off-brand choices that makes this project an even bigger winner beyond its diversity. Did you honestly expect to find "Welcome Home" by King Diamond on this thing, or "The Ripper" by Priest, or "The Phantom of the Opera" by Maiden? How about their use of Dio-era Sabbath with "Neon Knights" instead of the usual big-two (and you know what they are)? Instead of utilizing any Empire-era Queensryche, you get the foundation track "Queen of the Reich," plus you get "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" by WASP, "Star War" by Raven and "Demolition Boys" by Girlschool.
Carefully constructing the roots of the original metal movement with Diamond Head's "Am I Evil," later conjured up by Metallica, Uriah Heep's "Easy Livin'" and lost Sammy Hagar ensemble Montrose with "Bad Motor Scooter," The Heavy Metal Box is a sheer blast from the past from start-to-finish. It's both nostalgia and historical music preservation. Heavy metal in the beginning was so large it's impossible to bring every constituent on board, and today's revival scene is triple what it once was, so imagine trying to collect all of this music together in one time capsule. Not an envious proposition. This is the reason The Heavy Metal Box succeeds gloriously. Let not another K-Tel anthology sour your hard rockin' disposition...
Friday, September 21, 2007
The Metal Minute is throwing you a curveball today! Celtic music may not, at face value, ring like heavy metal, however, there's a large sanction of metal and punk fans out there who embrace the earthbound art form of Celtic. Flogging Molly is running like wildfire with the best onstage party out there, while there's plenty of European and Scandinavian metal bands looping Celtic and Viking lore and lyre into their raging infernos. When you yank out the amps and the guitar necks, and you slip in the bagpipes and a richer, denser form of percussion with snares, tabla and bodhran, then what you have is a primeval form of expression that is subtly metal, similar in the way that Mozart and Beethoven were undeniably metal for their time.
The Rogues in their time have taken Celtic music to new plateaus by fusing contemporary elements and theories into traditional bagpipe lines, even to such latitudes as rock jams and piano-assisted ballads. Onstage, The Rogues blare with an attitude. Yes, you're going to get the reverential "Amazing Grace" which is obligatory for all Celtic (particularly Scottish) ensembles, but also The Rogues keep a steady--occasionally thunderous--pulse that has folks cheering, nodding and jigging along. There's something about this form of music that endears it to many walks of life. You can be a mutt like myself that has an ancestral makeup of Scot-Irish-British-German-Dutch and still be one of the boys, so to speak. This music is universal for those with an open ear and an open mind, kinda similar to metal, if you stop and think about it...
Ask any regular who the kings of the Renfest are, and the majority will tell you it's The Rogues. Their performances are always logjammed with fans and for over a decade they've lit up the Maryland Renaissance Festival, changing lineups yet evolving each year to the point where one day don't be surprised to see another member tapping frets at their side. As I mentioned before, I struck up conversation with one of the face men of The Rogues, Nelson Stewart, and since then we've had some correspondence back and forth in what should hopefully lead to a full-length interview. You'll recall that Nelson has an indirect tie to the night Dimebag Darrell was killed in the fact his close friend Mayhem was also stricken the same night. Perhaps then you'll realize that the kinship between an ancient form of music and a more contemporary style have more in common than meets the eye.
Enjoy these shots of The Rogues, and I have no idea who that slightly balding bastard standing with Nelson is at the end, but it's amazing what people will do for their 15 minutes, isn't it?
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Nowadays it might be appropriate to say put your hardcore where your mouth is, which doesn't mean busting skulls and breaking teeth in the name of nihilism. John Salt comes from a lost era of punk and hardcore where fisticuffs were a part of the norm as much as broken beer bottles, screaming mohawks and screwed-up guitar chords. Speed and tenacity were what defined the original hardcore underground, and Salt's seen things through both a drugged haze and cleared eyes to realize the genre has unsung heroes raging righteously beneath a platform of scene-banding artificiality. Lethal Aggression's biggest claim to fame came in the form of their blistering Life is Hard... album, which is comparable to DRI's song-a-minute classic Dealing With It. The colorful John Salt took a few minutes to discuss the behind-the-scenes moments of Life is Hard... which has just been re-released with scores of bonus material...
The Metal Minute: The glory days of punk and hardcore would probably make the jaws of today's fans hit the floor, in particular the New York and other pockets of east coast scenes. Lethal Aggression shared the stage with some of the greats like DRI, Youth of Today, The Accused, GBH and even Prong before they were anybody. You give some blurbs in the Life is Hard... reissue about what the scene was like from your eyes. Let's have you paint the picture a little broader, especially since you guys had the song "No Scene" on that album about how music fans took shit for granted then and especially now.
John Salt: Well, as far as I'm concerned music has always been more of an escape for me. I love real, honest lyrics but music as a form of expression was always a way for me to leave my reality behind. We were right there as the scene was exploding and it was really exciting. My problem was the scenesters. Back then I always held contempt toward society in general, so when the microcosm of the scene started reflecting the bullshit outside the scene, it disgusted me. Looking back I wish it didn't bother me that much because we really had some awesome shows and I got wasted with some really cool bands. It is a shame, but once money started getting thrown around, bands got so stupid. It was worse with the hardcore bands because you had guys like Raybeez making such a strong statement like "hardcore should stay out of big business" and then two records later there's this glossy album with a big metallic Warzone logo on an independently-major label. The metal bands always were about being rock stars so it was ok, but when the hardcore kids saw the dollar signs, their music really suffered. It would have been beautiful if it all stayed as pure as 1984!
MM: I cracked up at the background story to the recording of Life is Hard... in particular the beer keg that fell out of your van on the Jersey turnpike en route to the recording studio. You mention the album didn't quite turn out the way you wished it had. Why is this, and do you feel that dropped keg was an omen?
JS: We recorded way too strung out and high. vWe had people who had no idea what we were explaining to them and we didn't have a clue how to record an album. vTruth be told, we overthought everything. vThe funny thing is, looking back, it sounded exactly as it should have. vWe didn't really have much experience in a real studio and we didn't hire anyone familiar with the music. I couldn't see us trying to record anything sober back then so it's a good representation as to the best we could do with where our heads were at. We really did mix it under the influence of acid, so anything that could have sounded better probably ended up sounding worse! Was the dropped keg an omen, hell no! The pair of dirty pa left in the van from Vodka Sue the night before, that should have been the omen!
MM: (laughs) Life is Hard... is one of those crazy entities like DRI's Dealing With It or The Dirty Rotten LP. It was a one-of-a-kind experience that you can't get away with now (unless you're Birdflesh), where you can blitz one to one-and-a-half minute punk songs in succession then come out with an over-the-topper like "Tipper Gore Smokes Dope," which was hilarious for its time. Most people today have forgotten or just don't know about the PMRC. Amazing what the underground got away with, isn't it? The political rage back then makes today's ranting look a bit tame in comparison and weirdly, life is harder today than in the eighties.
JS: What we really need today is a good old fashioned assassination. Not politicians either; someone needs to take down these fuckin greedy CEOs or some major fucking banking heads. Music will never change the world - only action can change the world. We had some great voices back in the eighties but no one taking action, just bitching and moaning. It's a shame that people who really speak intelligently get pushed to the back. They call Bono a man of political action he's a fucking wanker! Fucking Metallica is a band that if they had some goddamn balls could go on record and really motivate some action. I saw Jello Biafra do a spoken word recently and my friend was running the stage area. All he worried about was his paycheck and if they could get him sushi. Sometimes I look back and think a lot of that political ranting was just posturing. The only fucker I still see keeping it real is Dave (Dictor) from MDC.
MM: Getting Life is Hard... back to the masses with the Subliminal Erosion and Just Killed Rock 'n Roll EPs, your 2006 Circle Pit of Life demo and a couple of live tracks from Lethal Aggression's first show is one hell of a time capsule that I think captures the angst and chaos of the hardcore scene as it originally was. First, put us onstage with you as you remember that very first gig, and secondly, how do you feel today's hardcore scene measures up in comparison to the old days? Do you feel there's legitimacy or posturing going on today?
JS: All I wanted to do was express myself. It felt so awesome to just get up on that stage for the first time and just say this is us. Take it or leave it, we don't give a fuck, we don't care, we just want to blow your fucking heads off. It really was so innocent, fresh, and most importantly, exciting. Man, playing the fuckin' local roller rink was like something we looked forward to for months. I remember the bass player Spencer was gonna spit relish on people and we were thinking up whatever shit we could come up with to disgust people. When it finally came down to play we just got all fucked up and gave it hell. The kids really ate the shit up. It was the first time most of those people saw shit played that fast. I remember all these cock rock dudes being blown away. I don't think they liked it; they just couldn't believe how fast the shit was and how much we moved around. Hardcore is on it's third cycle now so it will never measure up; it can't, it's not something new. Don't get me wrong, there are lots of good bands but once something is done, it's exposed and can never be re-revealed.
MM: I can't argue with that. Your song "MySpace Slut" from last year's Circle Pit of Life demo is a freakin' hoot! The core of the song is supplemented by a blog post you have at MySpace which talks about people interacting through cyberspace instead of in the real world. We both come from a time and age predating the internet and can remember that you put the word about things, be it music, news or bullshit on the streets through the mouths of others, which of course was the magic to building the original punk and metal scenes. How would you like to add to this?
JS: Myspace is a great networking tool. It does what fliers used to do and it lets you reach a much wider audience. The personal side of MySpace is scary; people like to expose their lives to strangers and then feel an intimate connection with them. It's fucking retarded. It is a good way to find old friends, meet some new people -whatever. The goof is so many people get this connection and then they meet in real life and it's like, "who the fuck are you?" I've seen some funny shit go down with people who MySpace as their social arena. Nothing beats looking another motherfucker in the eyes!
Band MySpace page: Lethal Aggression MySpace page
Copyright 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Gadzookabombs, it's Wednesday already! Life's gotta slow down, fer crissakes, but then again, there's vacation coming up soon as wifey and I drop out of society to The Outer Banks in North Carolina, more of which I'll discuss later. Hope you guys are kickin' things proper...I've been checking the site meter every day and you all have helped The Metal Minute hit roughly 400 strikes a day since the past weekend. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting this site. Things will keep blasting ahead here, so I look forward to keeping the kinship with my brothers and sisters in metal out there. Cheers to ya!
This week's Whattya Listenin' to Wednesday selections on my end are quite diverse (you expected less?), everything from funk to bagpipes, but I dealt myself a heavy blast of Tesla in getting ready for their gig in Baltimore last Friday, so that's the grand poobah of repeaters this week. I don't need to cue you... Cough 'em up, peeps!
1. Tesla - Time's Makin' Change: The Best of Tesla
2. Kool & the Gang - Best of Kool & The Gang (1969-1976)
3. The Rogues - Roguetrip
4. Finntroll - Ur Jordens Djup
5. Lillian Axe - Waters Rising
Finntroll - Ur Jordens Djup
2007 Century Media Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
A lot of differing subsanctions in metal are quickly clawing together around Finnish humppa madmen Finntroll, each trying to claim this band as uniquely one of theirs. Is Finntroll black metal? In some ways. Are they symphonic metal? To certain latitudes. How about death metal? Absolutely, but there's more to Finntroll than just fantastical guts and gore. Uproarious sword and sorcery Viking metal? Sure, not bad, but Lord of the Rings and Pathfinder only applies to certain extents with Finntroll, and the point to be made here is that this band has a lot of elements and differing modes of attack, so why bother trying to hedge them into one subspecies?
If you've heard the gloriously gleeful bar thrash of Korpiklanni, that'll get you in the proper mindframe for Finntroll. In many ways, Finntroll is in the similar chug-a-lug brain-busting vein as Korpiklanni, though they can throw the odd curveball quite frequently.
On their latest album Ur Jordens Djup, Finntroll can rouse you into a mosh and froth on "Korpens Saga" and "Maktens Spira" or peel off cheeky notes and bars on the death marches of "Nedgang" and "Under Tva Runor," so much you can hardly take any of it seriously, but you will get those neck muscles loose nonetheless, and that's really Finntroll's mission; tying together various styles of underground Euro metal and making it a real blast to listen to. If you're new to Finntroll, the deceptively calm symphonic opener "Gryning" sets the album off sounding like a Tim Burton movie before it picks up into a metallic march with a looney charisma beneath the aggression on "Sang" and later "Ur Djupet," so much there seems to be a hidden joke beneath it all. Consider the faint thirteen minute echo following a textured acoustic and accordion jam session on "Kvalling" that ends with a subdued studio ruckus by Finntroll (though be warned, this song does test your patience) and undoubtedly Finntroll have the hearts of pranksters. Maybe then the appropriate subcategory for these guys should be "Ale Sloshing Monty Python Metal."
Regardless of what metal clique gets a stranglehold on wrangling Finntroll into their collective coven, the fact remains that this band is far too much fun to be narrowly confined. Ur Jordens Djup may have darker textures than the earthy and sudsy Korpiklanni, but Finntroll has oodles of affecting melody to their crazy craft, and those violins, banjos, mouth harps, keyboards and roughneck metallic riffs makes them a mandatory listen, if for nothing else, whipping your tired ankles into a jig of the damned...
This is pretty killer and while Igor and Max are discussing doing something real together, I think the Seps will be in pretty good hands with this new cat, Jean. Andreas Kisser has reported there will be a new Sepultura album in 2008, contrary to the reports that the band was officially dead after their crushing album from last year Dante XXI.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
In a joint venture with Rough Edge.com, The Metal Minute is proud to present one part of two interview sections with Steve Blaze of Lillian Axe. The guitar slinger gave me a generous amount of his time for this endeavor and I urge you to jet over via this link: Rough Edge within a week's time for the second installment of this entertaining chat session. Blaze talks about his time spent with hard rock legends Angel, as well as painting a broader of picture of Lillian Axe in the eighties and nineties, along with more details about Lillian Axe's current album Waters Rising.
While you're there in Rough Edge's features section, have a go with some of my older interviews with bands and artists such as In Flames, Lamb of God, Dio, Queensryche, Yngwie Malmsteen, Billy Sheehan, Overkill, Skid Row, Sadus, Winger, Every Time I Die, Norma Jean, Atreyu, Unearth, All That Remains, Trivium, 3 Inches of Blood, Crowbar, Powerman 5000 and many others.
For now, sit back and relax with your favorite hot or cold poison as The Metal Minute takes 5 with Steve Blaze and a band to which Uncle Miltie himself, Milton Berle once said, "Lillian Axe? What kind of name is that?"
The Metal Minute: The fans would say the bitch is back, at least in recorded form, since your last album Fields of Yesterday. With Waters Rising now upon us, what’s going through your mind these days?
Steve Blaze: (laughs) I don’t know, brother! It’s a churning mass of ideas. I guess for the first time, I really just wasn’t under a ton of pressure anywhere other than myself. Every band likes to say ‘I didn’t worry about what anybody else said, I just do what I do, I don’t listen to the record company,’ and that’s just a lot of b.s. When you’re writing a record and you’re recording a record, you’re getting it from everywhere. You’re getting it from yourself, you’re getting it from your bandmates, you’re getting it from your label, your manager, your agent, and on top of that, you’re getting it from your fans. We have a lot fans that have turned into friends and we’re close with them! They’re the biggest critics. They’re the toughest ones to please, so at this point, with this album, we took our time, I produced the album; I worked with my drummer (Ken Koudelka) and in near-life experience, Ron Hovey, who engineered this album, and we worked very closely together. For the first time I was going to do it the way that I wanted to do it without being micromanaged. I had obstacles ahead of me, but the most pressure came from inside of myself. That’s all I wanted to do, was do the best possible record in my mind. You can never please everybody, but you try, and I really wanted to please myself, because I wanted to make this album very important to people jumping with us to the next step from the last album. I think we were able to accomplish that.
MM: I appreciate your honesty in talking about the “I just do what I do” syndrome! (laughs)
SB: Right, you can say that all day long, but in a lot of cases, even in acts that have been around for a long time...let’s say The Police were going to do a new record; you would have input comments coming from everywhere! The label would be saying this, the radio people would be saying this, it’s always going to be there, but it depends on your mindset. We didn’t have a label when we started doing the record, so that’s why it took four years. It’d start going awry on a certain song or it wasn’t the right song, something just wasn’t coming across properly or we redid it or just scratched it, but we worked on it until we had it finished, until we had it where we could say ‘Alright, I’m pleased with that. We can’t do any better on this song!’ A lot of time you’re not allowed to have the freedom of time of four years if you have a record company and a finite budget that you’ve got to fall into the parameters of, that, or your label’s up your ass! We didn’t have that, because we were financing it ourselves and we’ve been doing it at our pace, so I say as much freedom and leeway as you can have to do things the way you want to, we had that on this record.
MM: I think that makes the difference on this album, and say, Def Leppard’s Hysteria, where they took three years to get it put together—though they had different circumstances obviously—but they also had tremendous label pressure. To me, and I’m part of the minority on this, I was grossly disappointed with that album, even though it’s considered a hard rock classic of the eighties. That’s the difference between them and your luxury to write a more solid hard rock album like Waters Rising.
SB: It’s funny you say that, because most people would say that Def Leppard’s the one who had all the luxury because they had the budget and the multimillion dollars to do that album! Most people look at the luxury of ‘Wow, these guys could’ve taken ten years and they’ve got the money to do it!’ Everything we did was on our dime and on my dime and Rob’s dime. Then again, they had those constraints that even though they had the budget to do Hysteria, they were going to have to pay that money back! It’s all recouped costs, you know? It’s six in one hand, half a dozen in the other. You’re right, we were able to make sure that when we put this thing out, we didn’t have any excuses, and that’s another thing that we had to realize as well. If the album fell short in the eyes of the fans, I can’t go ‘Well, you know what? The label did this and the label did that! They wanted us to do it this way…’ I have nobody but myself to blame, but at the same time, I’d like to be the guy who takes credit too. (laughs) If you have to take the blame, you should be able to take the credit as well!
MM: I like the range of the moods and varied latitudes of heaviness on Waters Rising. You have “Frozen Antarctica” on the heavier side to the lighter sound of “Fields of Yesterday” the song, to “Until the End of the World,” the latter of which I think would’ve been your Headbangers Ball cut back in the day.
SB: It’s funny though, one thing that’s a little bit different on this record is it’s a lot of peaks and valleys, but even the songs where we do have slower acoustical parts slams in certain places. We don’t have anything like “The Day I Met You” or “The Needle and Your Pain” (Psychoschizophrenia) that is entirely acoustic all the way through. It wasn’t done on purpose; it just turned out this way. Who knows? The next album may turn out being a piano and Derek! I don’t know; it depends on what mood we’re in and what hits the chord at the time.
MM: You really cut loose on “5” with the neoclassical solos atop those grimy metal grooves. Do you think this is going to stand out as a signature Steve Blaze cut?
SB: I think so, because when Lillian took a little nap and I started my other band Near Life Experience, I had a little bit different kind of approach, but I kind of tended to get away--a little bit, I’m not going to say a lot--from my signature soloing thing, and I always say that because there might’ve been a few songs that didn’t have solos in them, songs that didn’t call for it. It was mistaken from my guitar fans who were like, ‘Oh, man, don’t fall into the grunge thing!’ and ‘Nobody plays guitar anymore!’ or ‘There’s no guitar heroes anymore!’ It kind of got to me a little bit to where I was like, ‘You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to do a song that puts everything that I know about guitar into one song!’ So I did. I used whammy bars for the octave, the whammy for the rhythm section, I have orchestrated pieces in there, I have downright wa-wa and shredding, I change pickup configurations, I’ve got double leads, I’ve got blues pentatonic riffs, I’ve got arpeggios, the clean stuff, just everything I could possibly think of just to say, ‘Alright, if you want to hear where my head is playing-wise, just put that song on.’ It has most of what I feel about playing guitar! (laughs)
MM: You gave a clinic on that one, man!
SB: There’s a lot of guitar tracks on that one too, and I wrote it as we recorded it. It’s the only song on the record that my engineer played drums on. Originally I put it on my solo record and since my solo record was just something I did myself, I didn’t really put it out there to the world. I just sold it at shows, kept it kind of personal, but I said ‘You know what? I’ve got to get it out there to the world! I really want everybody to hear that,’ so I took “5” and put it at the end of Waters Rising. It’s just a footnote that ‘You know what? Don’t count me out!’
Lillian Axe website: Lillian Axe website
MySpace page: Lillian Axe MySpace page
Copyright 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute
Monday, September 17, 2007
Motorhead - Better Motorhead Than Dead - Live at Hammersmith
2007 SPV / Steamhammmer
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Anyone who's ever seen Motorhead live will tell you they're one of the ultimate spectacles, merely for their loud reputation. That reputation is so substantiated that Motorhead, like Iron Maiden, have become reliable for putting out almost as many live documents as they do studio releases. In fact, Motorhead may set the precdence as far as live records go. It's enough that you have No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith, No Sleep at All, I Got Mine, Blitzkrieg in Birmingham '77, 1916 Live...Everything Louder Than Everything Else and a kabillion other live albums that have been released in North America and Europe, but then the reissues of Orgasmatron, Rock and Roll and Another Perfect Day each contained full-length concert discs as bonus material. In other words, Motorhead (with the "help" of unauthorized bootleggers) has built their legacy around the stage.
The last live offering Motorhead gave us was the aces high Stage Fright DVD, one of the best live metal videos ever produced. This time around we have Better Motorhead Than Dead - Live at Hammersmith, a documentary of Motorhead's 30th anniversary tour in 2005, right before Motorhead unleashed their rejuvenated and inspired Kiss of Death studio album.
Motorhead appropriately records this landmark tour in one of heavy metal's most revered venues, the Hammersmith Apollo, once known to metal freaks as the Hammersmith Odeon. It is the same platform where No Sleep 'Til Hammersmith was captured, so if there's a special aura about this concert, that's the reason. Motorhead peels off mostly trad crowd pleasers such as "Iron Fist," "Stay Clean," "(We Are) The Road Crew," "Ace of Spades" and their traditional closer "Overkill." However, with now 32 years in the game, Motorhead has more than enough catalog material to acknowledge, including cuts from their Inferno album on this particular tour, "In the Name of Tragedy," "Sacrifice" and "Whorehouse Blues," the last of which has become a contemporary audience favorite.
While the choice of songs on Better Motorhead Than Dead slows the pace just a bit more than what one would consider prototype Motorhead, there's no denying this set just stomps like a snaggletoothed hellion with more amplitude than most can withstand. There's a reason for the song and motto "Deaf Forever," because when we do lose our hearing, Motorhead will absorb the majority of the blame.
With Motorhead obviously in the logical trio lineup to finish their career (however long that'll be since they may outlast many of us) blaring tunes like "Dr. Rock," "Shoot You in the Back," "No Class," "Killed by Death," "R.A.M.O.N.E.S." and "Dancing On Your Grave," it's highly doubtful Better Motorhead Than Dead is the last live recording we're subjected to. Luckily, the shit just gets better and better...
If there's anyone who can pull off the ruse of substituting live material for studio recordings in near-equal increments without causing sheer offense, it's Motorhead, God bless their rowdy souls. Hoist a pint and bang thy head...
Sunday, September 16, 2007
As promised on Friday, here's some shots of opening bands Cult of Discordia from Fredericksburg, VA and Mysteriarch from Charlotte, North Carolina at the Chthonic show at Jaxx last Thursday...
Cult of Discordia:
All Photos (c) 2007 Ray Van Horn, Jr. / The Metal Minute
Rosetta - Wake/Lift
2007 Translation Loss Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Even now with the increasing popularity and practice of the subgenre known as "post metal" do I object to the use of the term. I certainly understand that Neurosis, Isis, Mogwai and others following in the wake of Sonic Youth, Botch and the alternative screaming psychedelia of the underground nineties came along at a time in North America where heavy guitar anything was grossly unfashionable. Thus this period of creativity can be considered to come along at a time in modern rock after the metal explosion of the eighties. Still, the more accurate positioning would have to make this sound "post grunge," if anything, but let's just dispense with the whole "post" shit altogether, shall we? Metal is back and gaining strength, so anything herewith called "post metal" is not only anticlimactic, it displays a case of uncultured swinism we can just do without.
With that little preamble out of the way, Philadelphia's Rosetta are back after a split release with Balboa and as they have learned much about themselves and their trippy craft since 2005's The Galilean Sattelites, their new offering Wake/Lift reflects all that they've absorbed from a scene wonderfully inflated with Isis and Pelican as well as Mouth of the Architect, Windmills By the Ocean and The Malevoiy.
Wake/Lift is a post-graduate (how's that for a better use of the word "post?") examination of Rosetta demonstrating how to sculpt textured lines of aural nirvana filled with distortion and sublets of low-fi grandeur that is cosmic on most scales and guttural when their crescendos demand them to be. The free-floating stateliness of "Temet Nosce" is beautiful amidst the hollow din of the echoing snare strikes seeking its tempo through the guitar mist clouding it. You truly feel like you've walked into something wet and temporal, even as Rosetta has already yanked you into their escalating chaos and grace on "Wake" and "Red in Tooth and Claw."
Like Isis, Rosetta has astutely learned the art of suspense and ascension. Each bar builds to something greater and louder, so by the time they climax, it's a starburst resonance of both aggression and beauty. In this manner, Wake/Lift is an emotionally powerful recording with the propensity to rage, but only after properly stirring a pot of calm into their quasi-universe. With Rosetta, it's about the peace and temperment of their songwriting, one that accommodates for boisterous outbursts (the crushing "Monument" being a fine example) to properly convey mood. Rosetta are fully on their game and Wake/Lift comes heartily recommended.
Simply intense... Serj has recorded a video for every song on his upcoming album Elect the Dead, and if the rest are as politically brutal and deeply intelligent as this video and "The Unthinking Majority," hoo-wahhhh.... Keep your eyes open in late fall for my interview with Serj I recently did for Hails & Horns magazine. I have mad respect for this man.
Serj Tankian - Empty Walls
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Saturday, September 15, 2007
Gorefest - Rise to Ruin
2007 Candlelight Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Gorefest made a return statement on their last album La Muerte after many fans gave them up for dead when they went on hiatus. Jan-Chris de Koeyer realized that fans weren't buying into their classic rock dabblings of Soul Survivor and Chapter 13 and he instead went for broke with La Muerte. Despite the boundary-crossing exploration of those forward-thinking albums, traditional death metal listeners were rewarded with what they undoubted pereceived was a proper Gorefest album, one in the more brutal vein of Mindless and False.
Despite a few reserved grumblings about another possible breakup, de Koeyer and company are back once again with Rise to Ruin, and the good news is that they've picked up where La Muerte left off while finally making more sense of the Soul Survivor era.
Rise to Ruin is full of aggression, speed and rock progression that are fused so intricately you're almost unaware of the style merges, be it the elaborate doom rock sequences bridging the thrash laces of "Babylon's Whores" or "Speak When Spoken To" or even just the monster rock chugging tempos and old school guitar soloing "A Grim Charade," a song that strengthens into a full-on behemoth in the final third of the song. Also listen for some wicked solo sears on the title cut; they're so good it'll give you chills. The twined death and power metal rhythms on "The War On Stupidity" is another mark of shrewdness Gorefest has mastered on this album.
What's most impressive about Rise to Ruin is the songwriting, which demonstrates that Gorefest can write smartly while whipping your ass with crushing velocity. The affluence of Gorefest's rhythm section puts them amongst the world's best, one that'll have you headbanging to the Beneath the Remains era Sepultura cataclysm of "Revolt" while admiring the intricate rock sequence of the song's finale. This is far superior to both Chapter 13 and, dare I say it, Erase, largely due to its sheer confidence. Gorefest probably saw such latitude in their songwriting as risky in the past, but in a more hip metal society as we have now, there's no gambit staked here, only evolution. In the end, that's what counts most for a 21st century Gorefest, the courage to challenge themselves and still remain true to what they founded themselves on.